Beta-alanine (or β-alanine) is a popular supplement among endurance and strength athletes. It would have a beneficial effect on muscle endurance. But is that true? And does that help you as a strength athlete?
1. Supplementation with beta-alanine has a modest, proven positive effect on sporting endurance. That effect is only there for sports performances that last between 60 and 240 seconds. Beta-alanine can therefore especially help you with all kinds of cardio at medium distances.
2. You may also benefit from beta-alanine supplementation in your strength training, but only with relatively long-term efforts, such as long sets (dropsets, supersets, metabolic finishers) and circuit training.
3. The recommended dose is 2-6 grams per day, preferably taken with a meal.
4. Beta-alanine doesn’t work acutely, even though it’s often in pre-workouts. It takes several weeks to reach maximum effectiveness.
WHAT IS BETA-ALANINE AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Beta-alanine is a variant of the amino acid alanine and a building block of carnosine, a multifunctional dipeptide (a molecule consisting of two amino acids joined together) consisting of the amino acids beta-alanine and L-histidine.
So in addition to beta-alanine, the body also needs histidine to make carnosine. Because the body has an excess of histidine, beta-alanine in particular is the limiting factor in the production of carnosine. Supplementation with pure beta-alanine is therefore a more effective way to increase the concentrations of carnosine in the muscles than supplementation with carnosine itself.
WHAT IS THE USE OF CARNOSINE?
What does carnosine actually do in your body? And what good is those higher concentrations?
Muscle cells release their stored carnosine as soon as the amount of lactic acid in your blood increases. The production of lactic acid is inherent to strenuous exercise. That lactic acid is converted into lactate and an ‘acid’ residue. When that acid builds up, we speak of ‘acidification’, which causes that typical burning sensation in your muscles. In fact, acidification prevents your muscles from contracting. What carnosine does is counteract that acidification so that you get tired less quickly and can sustain an effort for longer.
As you may know, the energy for short bursts of explosive effort is primarily provided by the phosphate system (perhaps the terms ‘ATP’ or ‘adenosine triphosphate’ and ‘creatine phosphate’ mean something to you). Only when that energy is used up does the lactic acid system and therefore also carnosine come into play. Supplementation with beta-alanine therefore does not promote maximum strength, as creatine does, but muscle endurance. But that might also help you as a strength athlete.
The claim that beta-alanine supplementation is likely to increase muscle endurance was confirmed in 2012 by a meta-analysis [ i ] . It concerned an analysis of fifteen studies into the effects of beta-alanine supplementation. Ten of the fifteen studies were independent, five were sponsored from the supplement industry.
The analysis shows that beta-alanine supplementation may improve performance during exercise between 60 and 240 seconds. This is especially interesting for medium-distance endurance athletes, such as runners, rowers and swimmers. And with certain forms of cardio, such as High Intensity Interval Training, provided you move intensively for at least 60 seconds. Although the effect is quite modest: an average increase of 2.85% in endurance was measured. With more prolonged efforts (> 240 seconds) there was no longer any effect.
In 2015, a second review article of studies was published, by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) [ ii ] . Their conclusion:
Daily supplementation with 4 to 6 g of beta-alanine for at least 2 to 4 weeks has been shown to improve exercise performance, with more pronounced effects in 1 to 4 minute sports activities. [ ii ]
The ISNN also considers supplementation with beta-alanine to be safe, even though a tingling sensation may develop in the skin after ingestion – a perhaps unpleasant, but not dangerous side effect.
DOES THAT ALSO HELP YOU AS A STRENGTH ATHLETE?
With sports performances shorter than a minute, for example, sprinting, you apparently do not benefit from supplementation with beta-alanine. The same applies to strength sports. After all, most performances (read: sets) that you deliver during strength training last less than 60 seconds.
We said ‘most’, because you may also occasionally call on your muscular endurance in your strength training. For example with extra long sets (with many repetitions), whether or not in the form of dropsets and supersets. And also with metabolic workouts where you do several exercises in succession without rest time, such as circuit training [ vii ] . If you only do traditional, mechanically oriented strength training (ie relatively short sets with relatively long rest breaks), beta-alanine probably won’t help you.
There may be another benefit for strength athletes though. Supplementation with beta-alanine may have a reinforcing effect when using creatine. The ISSN found a number of studies suggesting that creatine + beta-alanine has a greater effect on different types of sports performance than taking creatine alone. But the amount of studies and the results are not convincing enough to speak of a real synergy between the two supplements [ ii ] [ vi ] .
HOW DO YOU USE AND DOSE BETA-ALANINE?
Beta-alanine, like creatine, does not work immediately. Only after one to two weeks of daily supplementation with the substance will the concentration of carnosine in your muscles have increased enough to be able to notice an effect. You can increase that concentration by a maximum of about 80%. Thus, while beta-alanine is often in pre-workout supplements, its action is not acute and therefore not a matter of timing [ vi ] .
Beta-alanine is usually offered in powder form. The standard dose is 4-6 grams per day. But even a relatively small dose (1.6 g) is already effective [ iii ] . If you’re taking a beta-alanine pre-workout, adjust your dose accordingly.
If you continue to take beta-alanine daily, the concentration of carnosine in the muscles will continue to rise for about two to three months. Once the maximum achievable increase is reached, the carnosine level will remain there as long as you continue to use beta-alanine. If you stop taking the supplement, the beta-alanine can remain effective for weeks, depending on how well you respond to the supplement [ v ] .
A large dose of beta-alanine can cause a tingling sensation. Although harmless, this side effect is experienced as unpleasant by many people. It is therefore preferable to spread your intake over several moments, for example by taking it in the morning and evening and/or before and after your training. Beta-alanine also works better if you take it with a meal [ iv ] . A pre- or post-workout shake also counts as a meal in this regard.
Supplementation with beta-alanine has a modest, proven positive effect on sporting endurance. That effect is only there for sports performances that last between 60 and 240 seconds. Beta-alanine can therefore especially help you with all kinds of cardio at medium distances.
You may also benefit from beta-alanine supplementation in your strength training, but only for relatively long activities, such as long sets (drop sets, supersets, metabolic finishers) and circuit training.
Keep in mind that beta-alanine doesn’t work acutely, even though it’s often in pre-workouts. It takes several weeks to reach maximum effectiveness.
- [i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22270875
- [ii] https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0090-y
- [iii] http://www.ergogenics.org/ook-een-beetje-beta-alanine-is-effectief.html
- [iv] http://www.ergogenics.org/beta-alanine-werkt-beter-als-je-het-inneemt-tijdens-de-maaltijd.html
- [v] http://www.ergogenics.org/nadat-je-bent-gestopt-met-slikken-is-beta-alanine-nog-wekenlang-werkzaam.html
- [vi] https://examine.com/supplements/beta-alanine/
- [vii] http://ergogenics.org/circuittraining-beta-alanine.html